I've received a ton of entries on the Memorabilia-Off contest that's currently ongoing. One in particular caught my eye, not just because of the merch but because of who the sender turned out to be.
I attended Syracuse University from 1999-2002. I was also Otto the Orange during that time. I rummaged through the archives (a Rubbermaid tote in my basement) and found some pieces for the contest.
That was from Mike Lozito ('02). I realized that I've never really spoken to anyone who's portrayed Otto before (sorry to kill your Santa Claus-esque thoughts of Otto's sentient existence). I decided to pepper Mike with some questions that popped into my head, and which I have a feeling most Cuse fans ponder when they see that giant piece of fruit tumbling across the Dome floor. Here's Mike's answers...
Did you go to Syracuse knowing you wanted to be Otto or was it something that you decided on once you were a student?
My father did a great job "growing an orange". He graduated Syracuse University in 1973. Growing up, SU Sports were a way of life in my Long Island home. We didn't get to many games on television, but I remember crowding around the radio with my Dad, trying to make out what Doug Logan was saying, between the static. The color orange was a staple in my wardrobe, and bedroom. Those great memories as a kid, steered me towards SU when the time came to look at colleges. I attended Nassau Community College for two years, then transferred up to Syracuse. I had a friend who was a member of the "Lettermen", the crazy guys who painted Syracuse on the their chests and nicknames on their backs. Luck would have it that my first semester there was an opening...thus "5-Ball" was born. The ritual was to shave my head bald the morning of any home basketball or football games, then paint it Orange an hour before game time. After seeing my enthusiasm for SU sports, a cheerleader who lived on my floor told me about Otto tryouts. Of course I jumped at the opportunity.
What is the process like to become Otto? A grueling test of wills or just a series of tumbles?
The tryout process was unique to say the least. We had to come prepared with a 1 minute skit performed in the Otto costume. For most applicants the chance to wear the costume was the main reason for trying out. I took it seriously and came up with a pretty good skit set to music spliced together on my Casio cassette player. After the skit there was an extensive interview process, it's really your character and personality that is trying out. They say you can learn anything once you're in the costume, but your attitude and personality has to be a perfect fit for Otto.
There was about 12 people trying out for 3 spots, I was fortunate enough to earn a spot and never looked back. There is usually between 3-5 Otto's each year.
What was your "Welcome to NCAA sports" moment? (i.e. - when the gravity of the situation became clear for the first time)
My first official game as Otto was the season and home opener for the Football team in 2000. The game was against Buffalo, and I was slated to work the 4th quarter. If memory serves me correctly Syracuse was winning 49-0 going into the 4th quarter, so the pressure was on me to entertain those who remained in the stands. SU ended up winning that game 63-7 and my Otto career started off with a bang.
My "Welcome to NCAA Sports" moment came two weeks later on a trip to play East Carolina at their place. We rode the chartered plane with the football team, stayed in the same hotel and were treated very well by the ECU cheerleading team. Although we lost that game in a torrential downpour, the experience was a great one, and a sign of great times ahead.
What was your worst moment as Otto?
My worst moment as Otto was in Dayton Ohio during the 2001 NCAA tournament game vs. Kansas. The cheerleaders and Otto were stationed behind the baseline just to the side of the basket. We spent the time during which the game was being played kneeling down to avoid being a distraction to the fans and players. Kansas player Drew Gooden successfully dove into the cheerleaders to save a ball from going out of bounds, on his way back to court he stumbled over Otto, he turned back and stomped on my thigh, then proceeded to get back into the play and throw down a dunk. That summed up the game for me, Gooden, and Kansas, dominated us on the boards en route to a convincing win. A win that sent us home, and me limping for two weeks.
What was your favorite moment as Otto?
It's hard to pick just one favorite moment as Otto, but the 2001 Insight.com bowl was an amazing experience. We got to tour Bank One Ballpark, or whatever they call it these days. As a big baseball fan, it was great to perform in the same stadium that just two months earlier was the site of a World Series Championship celebration. As a SU football fan, it was a huge win (and revenge for the '97 Fiesta Bowl beating Kansas St put on us) and also a huge celebration as Giovanni DeLoatch and Sean O’Connor took a dip in the outfield pool after the win...uniform and all.
Performing at the University of Tennessee in front of over 100,000 fans was incredible. Also had the opportunity to perform at the Kickoff Classic in 2001 at Giants Stadium, the 2001 Preseason NIT at Madison Square Garden and the 2002 Women's NCAA Tournament at Waco, TX
The most memorable experience as Otto came on September 22, 2001. The first NCAA Football game played in New York State after September 11th. There was a moving pre-game ceremony. I was fortunate enough to be in costume during this ceremony and it's a moment I'll never forget. The Marching Band spelled out USA, every fan was given an American flag and Governor Pataki was on hand to honor the victims of the attacks. SU went on to beat Auburn 31-14.
The victory was a great end to an emotional day and definitely goes down as not just my most memorable Otto moment, but perhaps my most memorable life moment as well. It also gives me a chance to quote Paul Pasqualoni, I never thought I'd ever say that, unless I was referring to Temple being a very very good football team. Coach P summed it up perfectly when he said, "What you would like to do with a night like tonight is to put it in a box, wrap it up, put nice wrapping paper on it, with a big, big ribbon, and save it."
Any advice for anyone who might want to give it a try as Otto in the future?
I owe a lot to my time spent as Otto at Syracuse University, and both Otto and the University will always have a special place in my heart.
*My nickname among my friends is...Otto.
*I introduced my coach at Syracuse to my sister, they married, now I have a brother-in-law and an amazing niece and nephew, all because of being Otto.
*Being Otto has given me the opportunity to mascot and work in the professional sports world. I spent a summer as the mascot for the Arena Football Leagues New Jersey Gladiators, and New York Dragons. I've also spent time as the New York Islanders mascot, Sparky the Dragon.
*Best of all, my time as Otto gave me the opportunity to work for the Syracuse Crunch of the AHL. I spent 3 seasons working in sales and marketing for the Crunch, during this time I met my wife. I still work on game days as the mascot of the Syracuse Crunch, Al, the worlds only Ice Gorilla!
As you can see being Otto is much more involved than most people think. There are a lot of long days/nights, a lot of traveling, a whole lot of sweating, and a world of opportunity at your fingertips.
My advice for anyone who may want to be Otto is simple. Don't do it for a laugh, or for a good story to tell your friends. Put your heart and soul into it, and give 100% every minute you're in the costume. There are always eyes watching you, most of the time those eyes belong to kids. All kids love Otto. You need patience at times, you'll need to be in excellent shape and most of all you need a passion for making people smile.
If you do all of these things, you'll get your laughs, and as you have read, you'll get your good stories too!